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2 awarded Silver Stars for bravery in Afghanistan

March 4, 2011 |  5:24 pm

On two successive mornings in July, Joseph Gould woke up at 3 a.m. with an overwhelming need to pray for his son, a Navy corpsman deployed in Afghanistan. "I awoke and I felt like Peter was in trouble," he said.

On the third morning, also at 3 a.m., Joseph and Malissa Gould got a telephone call from their son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter A. Gould. The Marine Corps squad to which he was assigned had been ambushed by the Taliban in the Garmsir district of Helmand province.

Gould, 24, downplayed his injuries. "He said he only had a few cuts and scratches," his father remembers. He made no mention of his actions during the morning-long firefight in which the Marines were attacked from three directions by 35 to 40 Taliban fighters armed with machine guns, improvised explosive devices and other weapons.

The Marines from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment who were with Gould during the fight later praised his heroism to the brass. On Friday, at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Gould  was awarded a Silver Star for bravery as the squad medic on that brutal morning.

Within moments of the patrol being attacked, Gould ran through enemy fire to rescue a wounded Marine. As the battle continued, Gould was severely wounded by a shrapnel blast to his face and neck from a roadside bomb but he continued to administer aid to "my" Marines.

"His inspirational actions and mental toughness under intense enemy fire led directly to saving at least one Marine’s life that day," according to the Silver Star citation read to a gathering of Marines, family members and friends at a parade deck.  164353.ME.0304.silver.02

A second Silver Star also was awarded Friday to the family of Marine Cpl. Larry Harris Jr.

During the same attack, Harris was attempting to carry a Marine to safety when he stepped on a roadside bomb. Harris, a fire team leader, died instantly but the Marine that he was carrying survived.

The citation presented to his parents and widow lauds Harris for "his bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty."

Harris and Gould were “exceptional heroes," the battalion commander said.

The award to Gould is proof anew of the significant role of Navy corpsmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dozens have been cited for bravery; 42 have been killed in combat.

Marine infantry "grunts" are famously clannish and standoffish with outsiders, even from non-infantry Marines. But their corpsman, always called "Doc," is quickly accepted, Lt. Col. Fridrik Fridriksson told the gathering.

The term "Doc" is "a magical password to let a sailor come into the brotherhood of Marines," said Fridriksson, the current battalion commander. "These corpsmen do everything to take care of us -- and they don’t ask anything in return."

Gould, one of eight children in the family, grew up in Syracuse, Kan., a farming community on the border with Colorado. One brother served in the Air Force, another was a Marine who served two combat tours in Iraq. Their father is the principal of a Christian high school .

Gould has undergone numerous surgeries to repair his injuries, with more scheduled. He will leave active duty in June and hopes to attend UC Santa Barbara to study medicine, according to his girlfriend, Jackie Baysinger.

She said Gould had not wanted her or his parents to attend the Silver Star ceremony because he was embarrassed by the fuss being made over his actions, which he believed to be nothing out of the ordinary.

Swarmed by reporters, Gould was reluctant to talk. His eyes welled with tears as he remembered Harris and other Marines killed during the battalion’s seven-month deployment. He was asked about the role of the corpsman during combat.

"You do what you have to do to get everyone home safely," he said quietly. "It’s in the job description."

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Top photo: Marine Lt. Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, assisted by Sgt. Maj. Scott Samuels, pins the Silver Star on Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter A. Gould during ceremonies at Camp Pendleton.

Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: Gould has undergone numerous surgeries to repair injuries suffered when his unit was ambushed by heavily armed Taliban fighters.

Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times